Yahoo! Sports’ The Vertical Paves the Path for Live Digital Video

Live video is nothing new for Yahoo! Sports. The internet-media giant has produced a live fantasy-football show for more than a decade, and the site even live-streamed an NFL game last season. However, a new content offering for NBA fans called The Vertical is pushing the boundaries for what a sports digital-media brand can accomplish.


The Vertical’s NBA Draft show featured live interviews with draftees from Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The Vertical is placing itself among media brands that represent a sports-news entity in the digital age. Using respected industry source Adrian Wojnarowski, the media organization has established itself as a breaking-news source for basketball junkies and has built live studio programming around key events on the NBA calendar, including Free Agency and the NBA Draft, the latter receiving much acclaim by many in the digital space.

“Our hope is that we set a really good precedent [with our NBA Draft show] by both traditional promotion and programming,” says Ryan Dornbusch, senior executive producer, Yahoo! Sports, “but [also] that this word of mouth will build something that, anytime there’s an opportunity to break news, The Vertical staff is going to be at the forefront.”

Broadcasting from Yahoo!’s New York City studios, The Vertical stationed Wojnarowski and analyst Chris Mannix at Barclays Center in the Nets practice facility, from where other local broadcasters and non-rightsholders were able to report. The team put on a full-fledged production meant not just to report on the Draft but to supply a companion show to the live draft taking place that night on television on ESPN.

“We know that the Draft is going on,” says Alan Springer, executive producer, Yahoo! Studios. “You can get the actual picks from the television broadcast and from other networks, but what we’re trying to do is do something that you can’t get anywhere else. We know the power of our site and the power of Woj, and we know that people are coming to Woj for information and news that’s happening, so we can break stories and give you different perspectives. For us, it was, what can you get from our broadcast that you can’t get from anywhere else? I think we did a great job of presenting that.”

According to Dornbusch, the NBA Draft provided a tremendous opportunity for a digital outfit like The Vertical to set itself apart from traditional live sports coverage. The official announcement of the picks inside the Barclays Center bowl was the only facet of the event that the digital production lacked. The rest of the analysis and interviews were able to match and, in some cases depending on your tastes, exceed that of the linear-television production.

“One of the things that we took a little bit of pride in was that, at first, there were some fans that were frustrated because they felt that we were spoiling the Draft because we would be on pick 7 and the TV broadcast was on Pick 3,” says Dornbusch. “We made a conscious effort to go ‘at the speed of Woj’: that we were not going to wait for the TV broadcast to pick up, that we were going to put picks on the board as soon as they were ready. What we started to see during the course of the broadcast was that people started to realize that it was spoiling the TV broadcast only if you were watching both broadcasts.

“For those fans that converted and came to us to watch the entirety of the Draft on The Vertical,” he continues, “there was no spoiling nature. It was a broadcast that was ahead of the game. In many ways, it became, we like to think, a progressive and enlightened way to watch the Draft.”

The production team look a lot of pride, actually, in breaking news and used the full breadth of Yahoo!’s reach by cutting live clips and promoting the live show across all of Yahoo’s brands, Wojnarowski’s popular Twitter, and even in Yahoo! Mail.

“It really allows us the opportunity to open up and introduce a lot of our great sports programming to beyond the hardcore sports fan, and we found a lot of traction there,” says Dornbusch. “Obviously, the production team and Woj did the heavy lifting, but there really was a site-wide effort to make sure the scalability matched the reporting.”

As for the future, the team at The Vertical knows these non-game tentpole events like the Trade Deadline, Free Agency, and The Draft — where Wojnarowski’s reporting is coveted — are where The Vertical will look to capitalize with live video. The crew at The Vertical doesn’t see a need to be doing live video on a random day to discuss random topics.

“The Draft is the perfect fit for The Vertical, but we were really encouraged by the response that we got. So I think we are going to keep looking to expand and grow,” says Dornbusch. “But the thing we are going to stay true to is that our most successful live productions have been when there is a true cause for you to come to Yahoo.

“The pitfall that you can get into,” he continues, “is to do live production for the sake of live production without really spinning the conversation forward or giving a reason for being there.”

NOTE: Verizon Communications acquired Yahoo last month for $4.8 billion in cash.

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